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Artistic research and its methods

Artistic research is a much-disputed activity. Does research performed within the realms of artistic practice fulfill the fundamental requirements of research in general, whether within the natural or human sciences? That question is discussed in detail by Henk Borgdorff in this issue and I will not in this article attempt to defend the raison d'être of my own research project. However, for the sake of argument and perspective, I would like to begin a short discussion on the methods used in my artistic research project by referring to Freud's dream of a scientific psychology succinctly described by Peter Kemp [Kemp, 1981, pp. 29]. Freud argued that no science can be or become science by building on clear and sharply defined fundamental concepts, but that any science has to begin with a description of phenomena that may then be grouped, ordered and put into context. The fundamental concepts of the science are developed afterwards. Freud's line of thought in ``Grundbegriffe der Wissenschaft'' is summarized by Kemp as a four-step process in the development of a new science (ibid pp. 30):

  1. Description of material.
  2. Use of abstract ideas based on this material.
  3. Creation of fundamental concepts.
  4. Definition of the fundamental concepts.
Not only is there a lack of general terminology in the field of electroacoustic music or computer music,6 there is also a lack of methodology and terminology in the field of artistic and practice-based research. In my own project, I am at the second step in the list above; I am using abstract ideas based on the material, and I have begun to consider the creation of the fundamental concepts for my work.

Further, the primary method I am using is that of artistic practice. But it is not the only method. In the projects presented above, the practice as the method was a point of departure. In etherSound, the investigation of the interaction between the user/listener and the sound in the production of musical content was carried out in the form of a sound installation that functioned as a vehicle for public participation. As it turned out, the development and the design of the software for the interface required a fairly standard scientific method rooted in information theory. On the other hand, in Negotiating the Musical Work, although the intended result (i.e., the composition `Repetition Repeats all other Repetitions') can in one sense be said to be the method, we soon realized the project needed a much firmer methodological framework. As has already been mentioned we developed a hybrid method for the analysis of the case studies. In timbreMap, both etherSound and Negotiating the Musical Work are part of the method, as well as a hybrid of semiology and information theory.

In all three cases the research method was developed as a result of initiating the artistic process - the artistic work led the way to the method(s) with which the problems, as they appeared in this process, could be resolved. Furthermore, in all three cases the method or methods chosen were well known within closely related disciplines (musicology, sociology, computer science, etc.). I would argue that this is a relevant methodology for artistic research: to let the needs that arise within the artistic practice yield the method.

Going back to the research question: Can an interactive system that uses sound as its object of interaction provide the necessary premises for an integration of digital and analog sound sources on the level of both sound (as it is perceived) and performance (as it is experienced), and, furthermore, how can significant features of human/human and human/sound interaction in the context of musical production inform such a system? In what ways will I be able to answer this question and what will be the significance of this answer? In this article I have allowed myself to move rather freely between generalized philosophical reasoning and specific cases. The context and the musical sphere I am working within is, however, that of contemporary Western improvised and composed music and it is in relation to this field that the results of my work will primarily be of interest. The study of different forms of interaction between musician and computer is an active research field in the computer music community and there has been a growing interest in the sound itself over the last few years. I believe that the great strength of artistic research in general (and I hope that this will be true of my project as well) is that the research is informed by the artistic work. For my project this means that subjects traditionally belonging to the realm of natural sciences, such as sound analysis, can now be informed by the values of an artistic practice, which in turn may lead to potentially very different results as compared with more traditionally-oriented research. At the risk of sounding evasive, I believe that newly posed questions will be just as meaningful a response to the research question as a clearly defined 'answer.'

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